With the power and gusto of so many timeless rap artists, but the existential lyricism of new wave hip hop, Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. stomps its way into the charts, and does so for good reason.
The album opens with a skit, BLOOD. in which Lamar quite clearly signposts the ideas he intends to challenge throughout the album. The skit shows that taking the right path often doesn’t lead to the right outcome, ending with a gunshot. Then the haunting harmonics of producer Bēkon which opened the song re-enter questioning “is it wickedness?” setting up for the whole album the biblical struggle between weakness, and wickedness.
The album is full of impulsive beat/tempo changes, always jarring, making the piece exquisitely thought provoking and interesting. DUCKWORTH. toys with this beginning melodic and silver-tongued with Bēkon & Kid Capri, shifting to a Ted Taylor sample before abruptly cutting to the smooth bass beat that had become so customary for the album. Kendrick’s flow is uninterruptedly suave, however removes the delicacies and intricacies of his flow on his previous LP To Pimp a Butterfly to bring forward his ideas. The introspective nature of the piece makes it emotionally gripping, making the abrupt ending of the gunshot, as heard in BLOOD., a jolt into the reality of the whole album’s message. The audio then reverses, back to Kendrick’s opening line in the song: “So I was takin’ a walk the other day…”
Evidently, I was incredibly impressed by the lyricism of Lamar’s new work, but as I have found with many of his other pieces, his boyish and nasal tone always seems to grate on me. I found that the more frequent shifts Lamar made between this falsetto-esque voice and a more tenor/bass heavy voice made this record much less frictional for me, though, so I cannot complain.
Possibly the most controversial element of the record when the track list was released, for all critics, was the feature of U2. However, listening to the track I would easily call it my favourite, as Kendrick uses the classic style of U2’s popular work, the philosophical idea of how the individual should view the world around them with eyes open carrying through evocative lyrics: “you close your eyes to look around.” Bono’s vocals contrast beautifully with the opening from Bēkon, and lyrically mirror the symbolic cut of the word ‘understand’ as Kendrick preaches the need for society to see its own problems.
The only thing I would argue about this album that isn’t fantastic other than my personal aversion towards Lamar’s voice is that his lyrical message is almost too forward, with too little ambiguity to really entice his audience to think more deeply about his values as they’re presented. But overall, this album stands out so heavily as one of Kendrick Lamar’s greatest works, with lyrical, musical, and moral beauty. Lamar’s flow between songs is seamless across the album, entwining his feature artists into the works astoundingly well.